COLUMBUS — Ohio State knew coming into Saturday night’s game against Michigan State that they would be facing the Big Ten’s second-best rush defense and the No. 7 total defense in the country. And with that, they knew there would be some new challenges for this team.
Each week the Buckeyes have been presented with new tests that they have been easily passing. This week was their latest test, which saw them facing their first outstanding defense, which also led to their first time facing adversity in a game.
The Buckeyes struggled in the first quarter, but eventually settled, made adjustments, and navigated their way through Michigan State’s pressure on defense. Although this was Ohio State’s lowest-scoring game of the season, they still showed that they were able to get things done offensively when facing one of the best defenses the Big Ten has to offer.
“I think the best part about that is we all kind of got off the field feeling like we can’t wait to get on the field to figure out where we can improve,” head coach Ryan Day said of the team being tested early on.
It wasn’t a pretty first quarter for sophomore quarterback Justin Fields and the rest of the offense. Fields was sacked on the Buckeyes’ first drive for a loss of 18 yards. Following a Spartan turnover on the next possession, the Buckeyes were unable to complete a third-and-long on a drive that resulted in a missed field goal.
Fields was later sacked a third time in the quarter and senior wideout Binjimen Victor dropped a very catchable pass that left Ohio State with no options. The Buckeyes managed just three points and 16 yards of total offense in the game’s first 15 minutes.
“We knew it was going to happen,” Day said. “We did face adversity. It was not a good quarter of football on offense. And, again, when you’re playing against a team like Michigan State, things like that are going to happen. You have to respond and I thought we did.”
In the second quarter, Fields was beginning to flip the switch and get things trending in the right direction. The Buckeyes scored 24 points in the second quarter alone.
Day and his coaching staff found the answers to Michigan State’s questions by making the necessary adjustments from the first quarter and then finally hitting on big plays they showed in the first quarter. That got the offense in a rhythm, and once that started, nobody was going to stop them.
Victor started things off with a 60-yard touchdown reception by Victor off an RPO look. On their next drive, Fields took off on the ground for 35 yards, completed a pass to graduate H-Back K.J. Hill, ran for another 20 yards, and completed a 21-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Luke Farrell.
Although Michigan State has found a lot of success in their rush defense on the year, the Buckeyes found ways to score on the ground through Fields and junior running back J.K. Dobbins.
By the end of the first half, Ohio State had 312 yards of total offense, with 163 on the ground and 149 in the air. They finished the game with 529 yards of total offense.
“You have to wear them down. And you’ve got to cover them up,” Day said. “The running backs have to turn four-yard runs into six. And then eventually over time, if you can start to run on them, you can maybe start to crack some. And that’s kind of what happened.
“But the key to that is some of those play-action passes. Those kind of got us going a bit. The big one to Bin was huge, and I think that’s some of those ones that we hit on the outside; as we go with tempo it really helped us get into rhythm.”
It wasn’t easy for Ohio State and they certainly made mistakes along the way, but the Buckeyes secured a win and made adjustments on offense against a top defense.
With their performance against Michigan State’s defense, the Buckeyes also demonstrated that their offense can be a huge problem for the best defenses in the country, let alone the other, less-talented defenses they will face down the road.